Nature on our doorsteps - Bog Asphodel

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

In the Dublin Mountains at the moment, growing in wet patches of bog, you might see a little orange-coloured plant that looks like a little spike of orange wheat.

These are the fruiting stalks of the lovely Bog Asphodel flower. 

Bog Asphodel was once used to make a yellow dye compressor

Bog Asphodel was once used to make a yellow dye

In July and August when Bog Asphodel is in flower, these stalks hold up to 20 beautiful, yellow, star-shaped flowers. 

As the whole plant is no more than 30cm tall, it is easy to miss seeing it in summertime.  In autumn however, the orange colour of the seeding stalks makes them much more noticeable.

Traditionally, it was believed that the plant caused brittle bones in the cattle or sheep that grazed upon it. 

This is the meaning behind the plant’s Latin name, Narthecium ossifragum, where ‘ossifragum’ means ‘weak bones’. 

This belief however, may simply reflect the fact that the plant grows on nutrient-poor boggy soils where calcium levels are very low. 

The colour of Bog Asphodels fruiting stalk in autumn is distinctive compressor

The colour of Bog Asphodel's fruiting stalk in autumn is distinctive

Animals grazing mostly on this plant would therefore show bone deficiencies. 

While most plants rely on insects or the wind to pollinate their flowers, Bog Asphodel also makes use of drops of rain to help flick or wash its pollen to other flowers on the stalk. 

This is a clever adaptation in the mountains where higher rainfall means fewer chances for insects to visit during wet weather!  

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